When it comes to traveling together as a family, nothing is more classic than a good, old-fashioned road trip. Whether your family heads out on road trips frequently or rarely rides in the car together for more than an hour or two at a time, there are plenty of ways to make the experience as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. Before delving into the strategies that will keep headaches at bay during a road trip, it’s important to note that attitude really is everything. If you go into your road trip with the conviction that it will be a fun adventure, it probably will be!
No parent wants to field frequent questions about how much longer the drive is going to be. No matter what you do, you’re sure to be asked “Are we there yet?” at least a handful of times during your journey. By mapping out pit stops ahead of time, you’ll be able to give the kids an answer that they’d actually like to hear. As nice as it would be to just drive straight to your ultimate destination, pit stops are essential when traveling with kids.
What kinds of pit stops are worth your while? That depends on the ages of your kids and the types of interests they have. You should map out options for nice weather and inclement weather alike. For example, find a few museums, indoor play places and fun restaurants along your route. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, you’ll know where to go. Track down some great outdoor options like parks, roadside attractions, historical sites and petting zoos as well. If the weather is nice, the little ones will love getting a break from the car. Pit stops help keep parents’ sanity in check too.
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To keep whining and boredom at bay, be at the ready to suggest classic road trip games for people to enjoy. Games like I Spy are fun for the entire family. Prior to leaving, print out lists of all 50 states and have kids place check marks next to the license plates that they see for each one. Another foolproof road trip game is 20 Questions. Name That Tune is another family favorite. Just make sure to spread these out so that people don’t burn through them all in a short period of time.
In addition to keeping everyone happily occupied, you need to be prepared for the worst. If possible, bring along a GPS. Make sure its maps are updated prior to leaving. Bring paper maps as backups just in case. Top-notch GPS systems can direct you to gas stations, restaurants and other points of interest. If you don’t have a AAA membership, get one. You never know when you’ll need roadside assistance. Your AAA membership won’t be of much use if you don’t have a working phone, so bring along a car charger for yours.
If you’ll be traveling during the winter, pack cold-weather gear. Invest in a car safety kit. The best ones include flares and other items that can come in handy if you break down during your trip. Never leave home without a first aid kit. If possible, buy a jump-starter or compressor, which will allow you to handle dead batteries and flats with ease. Finally, keep a fire extinguisher in your vehicle. You probably won’t need it, but you never know.
When it comes to snacking while on the road, there are good options and not-so-good options. Keep a chilled cooler on hand at all times. Stock it with fresh veggies, fruits and cheeses. Slice everything into bite-sized pieces, and use sandwich baggies to dole everything out when needed. Hard-boiled eggs are tasty treats for the road too. Granola and trail mix should keep hunger at bay, and many kids like beef jerky. Just make sure to get jerky that’s low in sodium, or you will be stopping at every other rest area. As far as what to avoid, steer clear of sugary treats and messy snacks like pudding.
By arming your small children with a few essentials, your road trip is sure to go a lot more smoothly. Get a backpack for each child. Stock it with an array of great road trip activities like new books and magazines, crayons and markers, notepads and postcards. Word search activity books are also lifesavers on the road. A DVD player is an excellent way to keep little kids occupied during long road trips. Bring along plenty of DVDs. Allow each child to bring a small blanket and pillow. With any luck, they will nap throughout long stretches of the trip. Here’s one additional tip: Bring along a few surprises. New books, movies and games are excellent options. When the whining reaches a fever pitch, dig one out and surprise them. This will buy you some time.
Most road trips go off without a hitch. Don’t bank on it, though. Being prepared for bumps in the road is a critical part of enjoying a smooth, successful road trip. Bring along jump ropes and a ball. If you break down, the kids will have something to do to stay busy. Bring along medicine in case anyone becomes ill. Be prepared to stop if motion sickness strikes. If something does go wrong, stay calm and upbeat. Later, you will all look back on the ordeal and laugh.
When your kids grow up, they’re sure to look back on family road trips with fondness. With these essential tips in mind, everyone is sure to have a phenomenal time.